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Learn About Byssinosis

Byssinosis is a lung disease caused by occupational exposure to dust from cotton, hemp or flax. These dusts cause lung disease by obstructing the small air tubes. Byssinosis can cause symptoms like asthma but may also cause more permanent lung damage similar to chronic obstructive lung disease.

Other names for byssinosis include Monday fever, brown lung disease, mill fever or cotton workers' lung.

Key Facts

  • Workers in the cotton processing, hemp or flax industries are affected.
  • It causes an asthma-like breathing difficulty, usually at the beginning of the workweek and improves as the workweek progresses or dust exposure stops.
  • Prolonged exposure may cause lung damage that resembles irreversible chronic obstructive lung disease.

What Is Byssinosis?

Byssinosis is an occupational disease that primarily affects workers in cotton processing industries. The number of cases has been declining in the United States but may have increased globally. It does not typically occur in industries that work with cotton that has already been processed into material, thread or other products.

How Byssinosis Affects Your Body

Patients with byssinosis usually have difficulty with cough and feelings of chest tightness. Some develop "Monday fever" when they are exposed to the dust as they return to work after a break. The symptoms improve over the course of the week, and usually cause no long-term effects if the exposure is stopped. However, permanent damage and difficulty in breathing can occur with continued exposure. Most people with symptoms have had exposure for over 10 years.

How Serious Is Byssinosis?

If the diagnosis of byssinosis is made relatively early and exposure to cotton dust is stopped, most people will have no permanent damage and have few or no symptoms. Continued exposure for prolonged periods can cause disability, but rarely death, at least in the United States where workers' protection regulations are more consistently enforced.  

    This content was developed in partnership with the CHEST Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the American College of Chest Physicians.

    Page Last Updated: July 29, 2019

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